History of the Property Ownership 1739-1817

The property, that was later named “Birdwood” by William Garth, went through the hands of several different possessors before being acquired by the Garth family. The history of this ownership aids in the understanding and study of the development of the Garth family in Albemarle County as well as development of the landscape of the Birdwood Planation. Although not directly pertinent to the mansionbuilt in the 19th century, this information is still vital in helping grasp how the land changed over a century, why it was being acquired and what structure and landscape already existed prior to Garth ownership.

This story begins in 1739 when David Lewis and his brother Joel Terrell obtained 2300 acres of wilderness in a patent from the Crown. The original house built on the property was constructed by David Lewis, near a spring, what is now south of the present mansion. This modest wooden house is roughly dated around the mid 18th century. In 1759 David and Joel sold 800 acres, including what is now the present Birdwood, to John Dabney. Ownership was transferred again in 1773 when James Kerr purchased 600 acres, which included the original house. Then in 1802 Hore Browse Trist bought the land from James, who then sold it to Thomas Garth Jr., who like his father had been accumulating large acreage in and around Albemarle County. In 1812 these 650 acres were given to his son Jesse. W Garth. When Jesse moved to Alabama in 1817 he sold the now 689 ½ acres to his brother William Garth for $5286.18

Greenfield House near Cemetery
Photograph by Dr. Lynn Rainville (2007)

The original house, built by David Lewis, and the cemetery plot, a short distance from this house, remained present on the property when the Garth’s acquired this land. William lived in this house before making the choice to build a grand house closer to the main road. This decision to leave the modest house and start to expand reveals that William was aware of his status and upward mobility. The Garth family were prominent citizens of this area and participated in the Albemarle society with Thomas Jefferson. Accumulating land and wealth were clear goals of the Garth family and building a large house, that was meant to be seen from the road, were essential for the process of performing status for this white plantation owning class.

Holsinger Photograph